There is absolutely no reason for me to have any affiliation with Chile. The north-west of England bears no resemblance to the south-west of South America. A Chilean’s English may be no better than my Spanish, though it probably is.
However, at the tender age of 12 with a VHS on my television highlighting the superstar footballers on show at the France ‘98 World Cup, I distinctly remember two men; Marcelo Salas and Iván Zamorano. Both legends in their country and lodged firmly in my young mind.
Fast forward to adulthood and my unwavering yet sometimes ill-fated support for my hometown club.
While the European Championships muddled along a year late, my attention was suddenly grabbed by the most “Football Manager” thing I think I’ve ever seen or heard.
The Copa América was running simultaneously in Brazil and a name on the squad list of Chile catches my blue and white tinted eyes. Shuffled among iconic names like Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sánchez is one Ben Brereton Díaz.
A young man, born in Stoke and plying his trade (often from the bench) at Ewood Park in the English Championship, was suddenly plucked from relative obscurity and due to his mother hailing from the city of Concepción in the southernmost country in the world, thrust into a number 22 red and blue shirt which coincidentally matched his age.
From the Rovers to La Roja, Ben Brereton, who won the under 19 European Championships with England finishing joint top scorer, marked his first start for his new country with a winning goal against Bolivia having previously come off the bench to mix it up with Messi in their solid 1-1 draw vs Argentina. An assist in his next game earned Chile another point against Uruguay. With qualification sealed, they headed to a quarter final against hosts Brazil. He gave way in the starting line-up to the returning Alexis Sanchez but replaced the superstar at half time.
Soon after his arrival, Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City decided the time was right to kick the head off the shoulders of Eugenio Mena. He was promptly shown the red card but an image emerged of Jesus on his knees, Mena lying on the floor holding his face and six-foot Ben Brereton Díaz, towering over them with the face of a man who has just witnessed his brother being brutally attacked. This young man has found his passion and perhaps even his place in the footballing world.
The fan base at Blackburn Rovers has dwindled over the last couple of decades. The days of Premier League champions and even League Cup winners are a distant memory for many. But the club still has somewhat of a cult following around the world, particularly in Scandinavia and a fresh fandom from Chile would be welcomed for sure. A touch of South American flavour at Ewood Park would be delicious; a Lancashire red rose in Chile might be a beautiful sight, who knows? The confidence that his special summer has given him is certainly apparent and long may it continue.
Ben Brereton Díaz is suddenly leading this exciting double life. Championship footballer by day, South American wonderkid by night – this young man who, on the face of it, has absolutely no reason to have any affiliation with Chile. Perhaps there is hope for us all yet to live out our dreams, be they travelling to the other side of the world or being a real life Roy of the Rovers.